Albert van Abbe is a sound nerd and visual artist that operates between the art and club contexts. He has worked within the broader audio-visual arts field for more than 20 years, and his productions range from minimalistic sound installations to uncompromising Hardcore Acid productions. During the lockdown, he teamed up with Jochem Paap aka Speedy J, who has profoundly shaped the scene since his first record landed on Plus 8 Records back in 1990. On “General Audio” the two Dutchmen explore the sonic possibilities of a collection of test and measure equipment from the 1950’s, originally designed for the maintenance of various audio and radio transmitters, at Willem Twee studios in Den Bosch. Before the album releases via Shifted’s Avian label on 23 September, we are premiering the track “Wandel” and had a chat with Albert Van Abbe to hear more about the collaboration.
The album was recorded at Willem Twee studios, which has four different studios: one with test and measurement equipment from the 1950s and 60s, one with modular synthesizers from the 70s and 80s, a small project studio and a concert hall. What triggered your interest for the 50s/60s studio, where the material from the album was recorded?
Albert Van Abbe: I’ve been working at Willem Twee studio for a few years now doing different collaborations. It’s just a 30-minute drive from my hometown, and it’s easy to convince people to come there to jam, as it’s such a unique place. When Jochem Paap invited me to his STOOR studio in Rotterdam for a live session, I asked him to come and visit this unique collection of older machines in return. Most of them come from a local guy that had them stored in his attic but could not fit them all. So they were brought to the studio and are now taken good care of.
It’s a bit overwhelming, because there are so many different machines. The advantage with the ones from the 1950s is that they are not made for making music. So you’re basically listening to one big mistake. Jochem and I also did a session in the modular studio, but this one was much more productive.
I really like Jochem’s approach, and will never forget when he said “electronic music is like watering plants”. So that was what we did: made sort of a patch – routed some weird equipment to some other weird equipment – and then just let it run. There are all these changes in the old gear, so you can hear the music – or let’s say sound – change all the time.
How was it to interact with this unusual gear?
The good thing about collaborating in this studio is that you are not the only one being overwhelmed by it or not knowing what the fuck is going on. So the workflow is just twisting knobs and listening to how it sounds. It’s very organic. And everyone feels super dumb there, which is nice. When you’re open to exploring this, it’s a lot of fun.
You are both extremely experienced producers. Besides it being a very nerdy thing to do going into that studio to record an album, it also seems like a sort of time travel. Both in the sense that the machines are so old, but perhaps also in the sense of traveling back to the feeling of when you only just started getting to know how to make electronic music.
Exactly! It’s like doing music for the first time again. We were trying to do Techno, which is so meta, because nobody would try to make that sound back then. The result sounds very avant-garde and experimental, like some sort of vintage or antique Techno.
Another reason why it is so interesting to work with this stuff is that Stockhausen, Varèse and all these modern classical and Musique concrète composers used it for the first time.
It’s quite demanding to listen to.
You shouldn’t write this down, but I can’t listen to the whole thing in one go. I have that with some jazz as well or with some very avant-garde electronic music. But I think the record makes sense from a historical perspective, and I’m happy that it’s released physically via Avian. Collaborating with Speedy J on it was great and a dream come true for me.
One of the tracks is called “Pegelmesser”, which translates to level meter in English. Can you tell us a bit more about the original purpose of the test and measurement equipment you used?
For every machine there is a different story. One of them was used to measure large concrete constructions, for instance the vibrations in a bridge. You could send in the signal on one side of the bridge, record it with this machine, and then measure how much the bridge vibrates when there is traffic on it. Another machine was used to measure telephone lines. You would send in a pure sine wave and see if it’s still pure when it comes out on the other side. This way, one can find out how good the telephone line is. The machine behind “Pegelmesser” is called Boxcar Averager and was originally used to extract certain frequencies from noise recorded in space. It’s ideal for picking up signals from other galaxies for example.
How would you describe the sonic universe you created?
We made a lot of jokes about how it sounds like a Techno party very far away. On the other hand it was also very touching, because we recorded it in the middle of the pandemic when Techno and clubbing was indeed very far away – both physically and mentally. For me, the album has a subliminal message and says something about the pandemic. I did a lot of more experimental projects during lockdown, and also on this one you can hear two Techno artists that drifted off – way too far into the left field.
Will you go back to the studio exploring the machines further?
I also worked there with Bytone, Rrose, Adiel and Nene H. It’s such a nice way to collaborate. There are a few releases planned with material that was recorded there, and I’ll definitely keep going back as long as I can.
Would you like to share an experimental album that shaped you?
Albert Van Abbe: Vrs-Mbnt-Pcs 9598 I and Vrs-Mbnt-Pcs 9598 II by Jochem Paap
Jochem Paap: FieldsOS by William Fields and Everywhere at the end of time by The Caretaker
General Audio is available from 23 September 2022.
Photos: Mark Richter, Roos Pierson